Wednesday, March 29, 2017

One Year Anniversary of the NEW KITCHEN!

Hello Chickens-

As promised, I wanted to give you the one year anniversary update on the kitchen.  I know for many of you, and certainly for me, the kitchen was the most exciting part of our entire renovation.  Since this blog is most often a cooking and entertaining blog, it is no shock to anyone that the kitchen took the most research and was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole house to design.  In general, if you are lucky, you get one shot at your dream kitchen, and you definitely don't want to screw it up!

So I thought I would circle back one year in and let you know how things are going.

Firstly, a lot of people thought we were crazy with the layout of our kitchen.  Choosing to model a home kitchen on a zoned restaurant kitchen takes away all of the "rules" we were taught about home kitchens, that you need a triangle of space connecting the stove and the fridge and the prep area, that you should limit your need to move around the space and such.  So we were already outside the box when we created a zone for both cold and pantry storage, two zones for cooking sharing one prep space and one cleaning space and a separate zone across the room for baking, all of which does require some thought about how to organize yourself.

The good news?  It works PERFECTLY.  Again, our kitchen design is not for everyone, if you are a family with kids, especially little ones, this would probably be a nightmare.  But for us, for the way we cook, it has been a godsend.  We have officially done a full year of holiday cooking and serving, a year of eating just the two of us, and eating with friends.  We have done our everyday simple dinners, and weekend complex dinners and every permutation in between.  Yes we have continued to tweak some things about what is stored where, to help limit the running around, and have had some surprising things we hadn't needing three salt cellars so that each cooking area has its own readily accessible!  Overall, we keep saying that there is not a thing we would change about how the space works or about the materials and appliances we chose, which is pretty amazing.

Here are some of the gamechangers for us:

Our old kitchen was the size of a postage stamp, it was hard enough to cook with the two of us, let alone adding anyone else.  But the scale of this space is so lovely and well thought out that it is now a joy to bring other people into the kitchen!  I've started a regular "cooking class" days with my goddaughter, her mom, another dear friend and her daughter, and one of my besties from high school.  The six of us get together every 6 weeks or so to do a day of cooking, usually based on what the girls (11 and 12) want to learn to make.  We've done breads and soup, cupcakes, brownies, mandel bread, other cookies, and in a couple of weeks we are going to tackle eclairs!  There is plenty of room for all six of us to move and participate, and the island is a great place for us all to gather for decorating our goodies.  I never could have done this in the old kitchen, and these days are some of my favorites in the new space, I think we are building really special memories, and I hope these days continue for as long as we can convince the girls to hang out with old people.

After the election a dear friend reached out to say that he was feeling a bit adrift and asked if could we plan a super farty French dinner party where we could cook all day and make stuff he hadn't done since culinary school.  It was an easy yes on my end, and the two of us spent an entire day in the kitchen, making puff pastry from scratch and chicken galantine, Marjolaine cake and Paris Brest, stuffed breast of veal and braised endives and a potato gratin.  We had both ovens going at once, and often I was working something on the gas range while he was working the induction.  He could do a turn and fold on the puff pastry in the baking area while I was fussing over a sauce across the room, and since I was in the other section of the kitchen, his space stayed cool and uncluttered.  We knocked out an 8-course dinner for 7 people, and served and ate it in the kitchen, and the whole thing was smooth and fun, including the cleanup.  A total win!

We've also done some larger holiday meals, and our annual New Year's Eve party where we cooked upstairs in the kitchen and served downstairs in the formal dining room. This too worked even better than we anticipated.  While I do have to do some pre-planning to ensure that menus lend themselves to the arrangement, Thanksgiving, Fakesgiving, Passover and NYE all went without a hitch, and are about to get even better (stay tuned for why...). We were able to cook upstairs, and hold things in the warming drawers, cold things could get stashed in the downstairs kitchen so they were out of our way upstairs, and between the oven and burners in the downstairs kitchen and a couple of slow cookers, once we were downstairs, we never had to scamper back up till the meal was done.

And entertaining in the kitchen is wonderful.  We have done many small dinners, 4-6 people, which is beyond easy, but I also did my mom's birthday ladies luncheon for 9,  a brunch for 14 , and a cocktail party for 20 for Charming Suitor's whole office!  The "chef's table" can seat up to 10 with the leaves in, making casual dinner parties super easy, and with the four seats at the counter, we can do seated for 14!  There is enough room to move around that a standing cocktail party was totally comfortable. What has been really terrific is that when we just have one other couple over for dinner, we can do cocktails and nibbles right in the kitchen instead of the den, so we don't have to miss snippets of conversation when checking on dinner!

All in all, we could not be more delighted and would not change one thing!  Here is a roundup of the major picks we made, and how they are functioning:

Poggenpohl Cabinets:  We went with all lowers, since I am super short and I like the clean look of no uppers, and almost all drawers except for the corner cabinet solutions.  These have been a dream, they hold all the stuff we needed them to hold, up to 200 pounds per drawer!  And the smooth function and amazing organization inserts have been the stuff of genius.  Cabinets are one of those things that you really don't appreciate until you have exceptionally good ones!

Dekton Countertops:  You all know the saga of the countertops and how much we love our partners Cosentino and StoneMasters for hanging in there with us, but the results have been well worth the drama.  The counters are gorgeous, and despite our best efforts, we have not been able to stain, scratch or scorch them.  They look amazing and have been the perfect choice.  Everyone comments on how gorgeous they look and feel, with their suede finish, but I keep extolling their functionality.  I've been baking more and more, and can roll things right on the surface with about 1/4 the amount of flour as other surfaces, which means my biscuits are fluffier, and with all the sourdough I'm making lately, I don't have to flour the surface at all, giving me really good surface tension on my breads.  I can pull a cast iron Dutch oven out of a 500 degree oven and put it right down, no trivets!  This has made using our island as a buffet super easy, everything just goes right down without a worry.  And even better, on baking days with the girls, we've been able to use commerical strength food coloring powders, which notoriously get everywhere and stain permanently, and while we have stained our fingers and shirts and aprons, the counters get wiped up and not a mark on them.  I would absolutely do them again.

BlueStar Range, Hood and Ovens:  I cannot recommend this company enough.  These were the first decision we made for the kitchen, and it has proven to have been the best possible thing on every level.  The range with the four burners and 24 inch French Top has made our everyday cooking a dream, the flexibility is just amazing.  I have melted chocolate on the simmer burner with no double boiler, and have done extreme high heat wok cooking by removing the center rings from the French top.  I have done huge batches of stock on the French top, in my giant rondeau that used to have to go over two burners and never heated properly, and the high heat burners are getting great sears on our steaks.  The range is easy to clean, and we love the simple intuitive design.  The hood is super powerful, so when we are doing those steaks we don't smoke out the kitchen, and I can finally make fish at home and not stink up the place for a week!  The gas oven has been amazing for roasting, but the electric oven has really changed my life.  The flexibility of the different cooking programs are still things that I am exploring, but I am baking more and more and enjoying more than I ever have.  The built-in baking stone has been the most important thing, as I am now making sourdough breads regularly, and getting insanely crunchy crusts!  I'm about to start playing with pizza, so stay tuned for those adventures.  I have three other friends who have all purchased BlueStar ranges since we got ours, and everyone raves.  If you take only one thing away from our kitchen experience, it is whatever kitchen you are doing, check out BlueStar for sure!

Marvel Fridge Freezer, wine fridge and cheese fridge:  The 72-inch side by side has completely changed our lives for the better.  Suddenly there is room in the freezer to really sock away stuff, so I can finally make big batches of homemade stock like I always wanted to, and not take up the whole freezer.  That includes stashing old bones and carcasses and veggie scraps until I have enough for stock.  I can start prepping for holiday meals a month out.  I can put full sheet trays in the fridge!  The fridge stays organized with the help of a bunch of clear plastic bins, and I always know where everything is.  But I no longer have to remove all of the regular inhabitants when I load in groceries for a big party...everything just fits!  Glorious.  The wine fridge has been really great, Charming Suitor keeps it full of a variety of everyday wines, as well as the vermouth, Lillet, and other cocktail making supplies that used to take up a ton of room in the regular fridge.  And the cheese fridge has been wonderful, we are getting twice to three times the life out of our cheeses and charcuterie as we used to in the regular fridge!

Gaggenau Induction Cooktop, steamer and warming drawers:  Working with induction cookery has been really fun, the speed is astounding (boiling water in mere moments), but the range of temps is also amazing (perfect poached eggs), and since it puts off no heat, it has been terrific for cooking last minute stuff with guests over, since I can face them while I cook and not wilt everyone's hairdo.  The warming drawers are in almost daily use, from just gently heating our dinner plates, to holding cooked foods until dinner time, to helping me proof breads.  But it is the steamer that was the total surprise.  This thing is amazing.  From making steamed veggies for quick dinners to holding classic Chicago hot dogs and the buns nice and warm for a party, it's been making our life so much easier!  We've gotten addicted to steamed new potatoes, which taste so much more potato-y than boiled ones.  And our annual love affair with artichokes has been powerfully improved.  The ease of cleanup, just drain and wipe out the base and stick the lid and steamer insert right in the dishwasher, makes it a dream.

LaCornue Rotisserie:  You guys know that I wanted this thing like it was my JOB.  Thank goodness for a milestone birthday just preceding the kitchen project, I will be forever grateful for turning 45.  It is the gift that keeps on giving.  Super easy, we do chicken at least once a week.  Nothing fancy, straight out of the fridge with a spray of oil and a sprinkle of salt, and an hour later there is the perfect crispy-skinned super juicy chicken that somehow manages to taste seasoned to the bone despite no brining or special prep.  We will do potatoes underneath, or our new obsession, cabbage, which cooks and caramelizes in the chicken fat and juices and chars on the edges.  That and a green vegetable in the steamer and we have a quick and easy meal that practically made itself.  People can invite themselves for dinner at 4PM, and all I have to do is get this thing going and there is no sweat.  We've done leg of lamb, and even a whole pineapple for an unusual summer dessert.  The only issue for us was that even though the company swears it does not need extra ventilation?  It totally does.  When we first started cooking with it, it set off the carbon monoxide detector every time, forcing us to cook with the back door open.  So we recently installed a super quiet exhaust fan in the ceiling above it, and problem was solved.  We were lucky because having the construction happening upstairs meant that we had easy access to drop it in from above, but if you are considering one for your home, be sure to plan a ceiling exhaust fan from the start.  The true bonus is that with all these rotisserie chickens, I stash carcasses in our awesome freezer, so I never have to buy bones for stock!

Miele Dishwashers:  These things are getting constant use, and while having two of them has been really wonderful for big parties, the fact is that for everyday or smaller dinners with one other couple, one is really all we need for cleanup!  They are so well-designed and flexible that everything always manages to fit.  The silverware drawer on top mean no more picking food bits off between spoons that got stuck together, and with the moveable racks, I can fit my tallest stock pot, and sheet pans with ease.  But there is no question, if you love to cook and entertain, that second dishwasher is like a little miracle.  And even better, they run so silently, that we can have a dinner party in the kitchen with the prep stuff running, and no one notices!

Blanco sinks and faucets:  Last but not least, our pair of sinks with their professional grade faucets have finally made cleanup easy.  The deep bowls hold plenty of stuff, and make cleaning larger pots and pans and serving pieces super easy.  The elevated grates on the bottom have saved me a couple of time when I was filling pots and got a phone call!  And all of the various extras, like the inset strainers and cutting boards have made them uber functional.

Larchwood Canada custom butcher block:  This 5 inch thick butcher block has now seen a full year of slicing and dicing and chopping and it still looks amazing.  The self-healing larchwood requires only an occasional treatment of butcher block conditioner and you can barely tell that we actually chop on it.  It looks spectacular, and we love not having to pull out cutting boards every second.

We are so grateful to our partners at all of these amazing companies for helping us do the research, guiding us through the processes, and being at our sides, not only in the decision making process, but throughout delivery, install, and even checking in to be sure that everything is continuing to work well for us.  It was so much fun to work with companies who really listened to what it is we were trying to achieve, and have them guide us towards the perfect choices.  Poggenpohl even sent a wonderful photographer, Mike Kaskel, to take the amazing pics below!

That is the official one-year update on the kitchen, coming up this week...color choices for the third floor!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Do you BELIEVE what these drawers can hold????

Happiest girl ever!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Quick tour


Get ready, because I'm about to be back with a vengeance!  Not only have I finally finished edits on the new novel, but because the third floor suite is drywalled, primed, and about to be painted!  So here is a quick tour of the blank canvas spaces, in preparation for the discussions of color choices and design elements that will be coming at you in the weeks ahead!

Also, I have some reports from the 2017 Housewares Show with some really cool new gadgets, and an update on how the first year in the new kitchen went!

So just to wet your whistles...

This is the entrance to the Master Bedroom at the top of the stairs.

This will be a small cozy place for us to watch TV.

I always wanted a bedroom with a bright sunny reading nook...
the turret is going to be the perfect place to snuggle up with a great book!

This is where the bed will go.  I'm amazed at how bright it is up here, after 22 years sleeping on the first floor,
and another two in the basement, the idea of all of this light is just delightful!

This will be Charming Suitor's dressing room.

This will be my dressing room.  Yes, CS has noticed the discrepancy in size.  I blame the shoes.

The commode room.  

The Master Bath entrance.

CS and I each have a vanity nook.

This is where the bathtub will live.

The shower.

Laundry room and storage.

Utility closet.

Bathroom for CS's office.

CS's office/music room.
That's the tour!  Stay tuned, because we have made some bold and possibly surprising color choices with our friends at Sherwin-Williams, more about that soon.

Anyone want to hazard any guesses about what colors we might have chosen for some of these spaces?  Post your thoughts in the comments.

Yours in good taste,
The Polymath